Congress sends Obama bill to ensure the blind can access the Internet on smart phones

By Jim Abrams, AP
Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Congress acts to give blind better Web, MP3 access

WASHINGTON — The blind will have greater access to the Internet through smart phones, and devices such as iPhones and Blackberrys will have to be hearing aid compatible, under legislation Congress has sent to the president.

Mark Richert of the American Foundation for the Blind said Wednesday that the measure was one of the most comprehensive bills in decades to improve access for the disabled. “It breaks down barriers for all of us,” said Richert, who is blind.

The video accessibility act passed the Senate last month and was approved by the House late Tuesday.

The measure sets federal guidelines for the telecommunications industry assuring that the blind will have access to the Web through improved user interfaces for smart phones. Also, over time, more than 60 hours a week of video programming must have audio descriptions.

It will also:

—Make TV program guides and selection menus accessible to people with vision loss.

—Require that video programming devices such as MP3 players and digital video recorders be capable of closed captioning, video description and emergency alerts.

—Require that remote controls have buttons to easily access the closed captioning on broadcast and pay TV.

—Provide funds to help the low-income disabled buy accessible Internet technology.

—Provide the deaf with the ability to watch new TV programs online with captions included.

“Two decades ago, Americans with disabilities couldn’t get around if buildings weren’t wheelchair accessible; today it’s about being Web accessible,” said Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., the main House sponsor. The bill was promoted in the Senate by Rep. Mark Pryor, D-Ark.

The bill is S. 3304.



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